Meditation is a very useful tool when it comes to mental and physical wellbeing. The list of benefits are as long as your arm and even the most sceptical cannot now deny the research. Most people would associate meditation as a spiritual practice, which is why it can be difficult to think of it as a practice with real scientifically proven benefits. It is more than just connecting with your soul, through research we now know it changes your brain and the positive results are long-term and lasting.
To understand the scientific benefits of meditation, you must first understand the brain because every meditation benefit comes from the effects that meditation has on the brain.
The brain is constantly changing though a process called neuroplasticity, every thought, belief, experience and mood creates electrical pulses that fire off in the brain, fed by various chemicals. Every time the fire, they strengthen that process so if you repeat thoughts, actions, behaviours etc then you strengthen the connections between them and lock them into your brain patterns. As you do this other connections fade away, you literally change your brain.
Neuroplasticity is automated and very powerful so when you meditate and become aware of the types of thoughts you are having you take control of how your brain changes. Just through the act of meditation, whichever type of meditation, you are training your brain to be calm and happy.
Benefits of Meditation:
It turns out, 96% of the participants in a 2013 Oxford study who practiced meditation scored as “happy,” while only 56% of non-meditating participants scored the same. What’s even more interesting is the results were the same across all demographics, so age and even years of practicing meditation didn’t have an effect on the results. Only one result stood out — those who meditate are happy.
Meditation Can Relieve Symptoms Of Depression
Easing the symptoms of depression is one of the most widely studied benefits of meditation. While there are numerous studies, research completed in 2014 revealed 18 major studies, which demonstrated that meditation, in many forms, can alleviate depressive symptoms at all stages of the illness.
Meditation Alleviates Stress
Depression is an illness, and meditation can help alleviate the symptoms, but what about depressive and stressful feelings in people who don’t suffer from depression? It turns out that even healthy people can see great relief from everyday stress by simply practicing meditation. A 2015 study discovered 29 scientific studies that prove meditation is effective in alleviating stress in otherwise healthy people
Meditation Stops Anxiety And Worry
Anxiety happens when we buy into our fearful thoughts and then obsess over the possible outcomes. Meditation trains your brain to step back from those thoughts, gain some distance, and, as a result, become a calmer person. Study after study has proven this to be true, and in an analysis of 47 studies, relief from anxiety was proven over and over again.
Meditation Makes The Healthy Areas Of Your Brain Grow
Believe it or not, you can actually grow more grey matter. Grey matter is the stuff your brain is made of, and when certain parts of your brain are stimulated over a period of time, grey matter grows. A landmark study in 2011 discovered that meditation makes your brain grow more grey matter in extremely important areas like those that control self-awareness and emotional regulation.
Meditation Helps You Focus
Concentration, attention and focus are so important for nearly every activity we participate in, but in our world today that’s constantly moving from one task to another, it’s difficult to improve those skills. Enter meditation. It’s been proven time and time again that those who meditate are able to focus better, pay attention longer and concentrate more effectively.
Meditation Makes You Creative
Creativity is an important skill that helps you come up with new ideas and solve problems more effectively. We use creativity all the time, and being more creative can help you deal with stressful situations better. A 2012 study found that, by helping you step back from your thought-processes, meditation makes you a more creative thinker.
Meditation Reduces Pain
No one likes pain, and it’s a natural response to try and alleviate pain as much as possible. In 2011, scientists discovered that meditation is powerful tool for alleviating pain. Not only does meditation regulate the pain centers in your brain — it helps you tolerate pain and lessen intensity.
So How Do You Meditate?
Initially it may be beneficial to use an app to help you to meditate. Apps like headspace are designed for just that.
If you find that you want to go deeper into the practice, silent meditation can be very beneficial.
Here are some tips to help:
Find a comfortable quiet space, don’t lie down as you are likely to drop off. You don’t need to sit cross legged, just be comfortable.
Close your eyes and start to focus in on your breathing, don’t change the breathing just notice the breathe flowing in and out of the body. Imagine the breathe goes all the way down into your stomach, relaxing everything as it goes in and then follow the breath all the way out. Just sit with the breath for a few moments and when you feel settled start to repeat a word in your mind: it could be anything that resonates with you (calm, love, I am, one, tranquil, etc). Start to gently repeat the word in your mind (imagine it at a whisper level in your mind).
Your thoughts will come in and disturb the process (this is completely normal and is what your mind is designed to do). You can’t switch the thoughts off, when you notice the thoughts coming in the practice is to pull your attention back onto your chosen word. Over time and with practice you will find that the thoughts fade off and you are able to focus for longer and longer periods on the repetition of the word.
Try this for 5 minutes a day at first, then build up to 10 then aim for 20 minutes. We are not monks and cannot sit around for hours on end and 20 minutes has been proven to bring strong benefits.